March 19, 2012
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

If a person is living a virtuous life, will they know it or will they be oblivious to the fact?

On one hand, we tend to distrust those who are darn sure that they are good. If one believes he or she is virtuous, doesn't that indicate a lack of humility? Such a lack of humility would seem to disqualify one from being truly virtuous.

On the other hand, a virtuous life does not happen by accident. A person can hardly be unaware that he or she is growing in virtue. After all, being good requires constant self-awareness and self-examination.

The only way to be virtuous is to strive for it with the assistance of God's grace. It would seem to be a futile exercise to strive for virtue and have no idea whether you are succeeding.

Then there were the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the epitome of those who thought they were virtuous and yet were seriously lacking in goodness. They were not anti-religious. Far from it. They were hyper-religious and yet failed to see that God was asking something more from them than the precise carrying out of the law.

You on the outside look righteous to others, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. -- Matthew 23.28

'You on the outside look righteous to others, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.'

Matthew 23.28

Jesus blasted them: "You on the outside look righteous to others, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matthew 23.28).

The Pharisees had totally deceived themselves. They had only given part of themselves to God. Their exterior virtue was a smokescreen for their hardness of heart.

The sixth beatitude is "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

The Pharisees were specialists in Jewish ritual purity. But they could not see the God who was standing right in front of them - Jesus Christ - because they had hardened their hearts. Their devotion was only skin deep.

It is the pure of heart who see God. The pure of heart, according to moral theologian Germain Grisez, are those who are single-mindedly devoted to God. They have a sense of sin and they are engaged in a process of ongoing conversion (Christian Moral Principles, p. 647).

PERSONAL VOCATION

"The devout life," Grisez continues, "consists in having no commitments that do not constitute part of one's personal vocation, seeking in every act only to fulfill one's commitments, recognizing one's failures in realizing this ideal, turning away from whatever underlies these failures, and so living ever more completely in faith's light and by its power."

Think of the apostles and their response to Jesus' call. "Immediately they left their nets and followed him. . . . They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed (Jesus)" (Mark 1.18, 20).

The opposite of purity of heart is insincerity, mediocrity, hypocrisy. The one with the impure heart sacrifices reality to appearance.

Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said, "Bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me." Instead, the person must "cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (1.13, 16-17).

NO HALF MEASURES

The one who is pure in heart takes no half measures. With fervour, he or she follows the greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22.37).

One of the major errors of our time is the split between faith and life. There is a myth that some matters are of concern to "religion" and others are up to one's discretion. They are matters of indifference to God.

God, however, did not create only half a universe. He created it all - not just the matter that makes up the world, but also time through which all action flows. His love has wrought every bit of time, every tree and every pebble.

God is indifferent to nothing; he cares about everything. He cares about how we organize the economy and he cares about whether a non-profit group raises money through gambling or some other means. Who are we to declare some areas as free from God's loving compassion?

A pure heart will not do that. A pure heart is always open to the action of God's love. It knows that the externals of faith are important because they can both reflect and shape what is interior. Without that relationship to the heart, however, the externals are empty.

When examining your life in relation to the sixth beatitude, here are some questions to consider:

  • Do I listen for God's call in every activity, especially those matters most banal and least likely to be called sacred?
  • When I hear God's call, do I immediately "leave my nets" and follow Jesus?
  • Do I fulfill religious obligations only to please someone else or do I strive to put my whole heart into carrying out all of my religious duties?
  • What areas of my life have I divorced from my life of faith?
  • In what ways do I seek to do justice and strive to rescue the oppressed?